Let's look at just some of the crises:
~ Federation A found it necessary to fire 33 staff members last month. There was no outreach by JFNA even after it had sent its best professional campaigner to the community earlier in the year. From my visits there over the years, if JFNA had any lay solicitors, they could have been deployed for a week's worth of major gift suite solicitations. And, were the JFNA Planned Giving & Endowment Department more than the passive area that it has become (or always was), and even though the Federation A Community Foundation (one of the strongest and wealthiest) is within the Federation, further outreach for emergency funding of the community's highest priorities and greatest needs might have been a matter of discussion.
~ The Jewish Exponent reported that "[T]his year, volunteers and professionals described Jewish Federation B's allocation process as downright 'impossible'" as reported by your friendly Fundermentalist. No surprise given the bizarre ever-changing allocations processes dictated there by federation professionals who have lost their way --if they ever had a way. The unrestricted annual campaign in Federation B had dropped by 14% while it is claimed that the "total campaign" only dropped by 2%. (The Jewish populations of Chicago and Federation B are approximately the same. In the same year that Chicago raised $80 million of unrestricted funds through its Annual Campaign, Federation B raised a claimed $27.8 million -- how much of that total was undesignated is unknown.) These results are also an expression of the intra-campaign swing from a "traditional" annual campaign responding to the case for giving to a "designated giving campaign" where donors could contribute as they wish to one or more of a set of thematic giving opportunities, and the termination of key staff (including some who actually understood campaign). Then I read that this federation reelected a respected lay leader as Chair for a fourth term -- apparently repeated communal failure dictates repeated reelection.
I have watched as this federation -- one that once offered so many of its leaders to the national system -- UJA, CJF, UIA, JAFI, the NCSJ, you name it; whose professional leaders over decades were a source of incredible leadership in our national system -- now is in serious disintegration. What does it do? "Refocuses its mission...on fund raising and community priortities." Makes one kinda wonder where its focus has been. Guidance from JFNA? Nah. Results surprising? Hah. There are fantastic leaders in Federation B. Are they being a chance to lead?
In Federation C a community of great potential, the federation raises minmimal funds and flails away. A new CEO is named after a flawed and failed search (which as I recall she led); a past Chair announces that the federation concept is no longer valid -- and publishes it; an annual campaign bottoms out while its JCC drains the community of its resources. Where is JFNA in all of this? Well, it did cancel the GA there and just held one of its Regional Campaign Kick-offs there.
In one comic episode, JFNA transmitted its "How to be a Federation CEO" manual to a federation CEO six months after that CEO took office. Big help. In another, JFNA assigned a mentor for a new Large City CEO. Weeks (or months) later another federation chief professional inquired of a new President: "Who is your mentor?" "You are," was the reply. The point: each federation professional leader is on his or her own. But for the conference calls and infrequent meetings of City-size groupings of federation chief pros, often organized by the CEOs themselves with a JFNA professional in attendance, these professionals are forced to fend for themselves without guidance or assistance. A role for JFNA -- sure. One JFNA is fulfilling in any way? Hardly.
But...among the 57 pages of JFNA Programs in the Budget Book for 2011, there was enough money, a lot of money in fact, to support the training and education of sitting Federation CEOs. There was also plenty for so many other things irrelevant to the federations but apparently extremely important to JFNA. How these dollars will be spent is a continuing mystery. Maybe the JFNA Chair and Budget Chair will involves themselves -- surprise us.
There appears to be a growing "movement" to build the "new federation" without regard to the basic values that must underpin the community instrumentality. In this writer's opinion, to "build" or "rebuild" without regard to the core values and principles and without understanding the history of the federation movement, will doom the enterprise to failure. That's already happening in too many places. And that is both sad and unnecessary. If those at JFNA understood the values and principles that are the foundation stones of the federation movement, they could help. Or, perhaps not.